Ashley Westbrook Turton, 37, was a fierce advocate. She was a mother, a public servant, a daughter, a Democrat, a sister and, yes, a lobbyist. She was a demure southern belle with a sometimes R-rated vocabulary. She was a debutante who loved the Grateful Dead so much she went to a concert shortly before giving birth to one of her three kids. She had a belly laugh Zsa Zsa Gabor would’ve envied. She was, as one friend put it at her memorial service on Friday, the love child Martha Stewart and Jerry Garcia never had.
Ashley died on Monday pulling her car out her the garage at just before five in the morning to go to work. Sure, it was a more important day than most: her company, Progress Energy, was announcing it was merging with Duke Energy, making it the largest utility in the country and Ashley one of the energy sector’s top lobbyists. But, Ashley was often up early, getting her four-year-old twins Shaw and Lane and her two-year-old daughter Mason Grace up and ready for school and day care before heading into work.
In the news of her death she was described as the wife of a senior White House official — her husband Dan works in legislative affairs — but to those who knew her she was much more. Washington is a small community and an estimated 900 people packed Ashley’s memorial at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church Friday afternoon. Her family was there — her kids, her husband, parents and brother. There were former colleagues who worked under Ashley when she was chief-of-staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) – where she was almost always the first in and last out of the office every day. There were Dan’s colleagues from the White House and people who knew Ashley from North Carolina and Progress. As a testament to her strong will but easy going manner, both Republicans and Democrats were present: former Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman and former Democratic leader Dick Gephardt were both in attendance. Reporters like myself and the AP’s David Espo swapped stories with Democratic communications staff — Brendon Daly and Jennifer Crider from Nancy Pelosi’s office, Anthony Coley, who was Ted Kennedy’s last spokesman, and David Axelrod from the White House.
The night before she died, Ashley wore a new necklace to dinner with friends in Old Town Alexandria. It was a silver medallion from her parents. On one side was a tiny A for Ashley and on the other a B for her little brother Blair. The center of the disc read: And all will be well. Ashley was an intensely private person but I think she won’t mind my writing this too much. These stories and the memories of her carried by her friends and family will serve to remind her children of how special she was — poor facsimiles of A as they make their way through C, D, E and on to Z.